Friday, December 12, 2008

December Muse/Musings

I remember writing my first book, a novel, in 1978 on a big, old typewriter. I would pencil in revisions and then retype over and over again. For the final copy to send to my editor, I would turn the manuscript over to a professional typist. Inevitably, I would reread it, revise it again, and send it back to her to redo. A few years later I bought an electric Smith Corona and eventually my first computer in the 80's, which changed everything for me in terms of revisions. I could now do it all myself. Since then I have bought three more computers, each an update from the last, the most important innovation being the ability to send e mail and attachments to editors and my co-author on a number of projects, Sandra Jordan. The internet has been invaluable for research. Recently at a meeting with Sandra, our editor Neal Porter, and the illustrator Brian Floca, with whom we are working on our next book, I was amazed to see on Brian's computer an actual film with music about our subject, a dance collaboration. We saw the live performance together, and there is no substitute for seeing the real thing, but when our memories fail us about a costume or a dance sequence, having instant gratification is exciting. It would have been impossible in 1979. What has stayed the same, however, is reading hard copies and penciling in revisions. I find that hand/eye process invaluable. When Sandra and I sit down together to go over a manuscript, we read it aloud to one another, listening for word repeats, breaks in rhythm, the need for transitions, and so on. We pencil in notes and changes, then go to the computer. My recent present to myself was a lightweight Dell laptop, which I can easily carry around with me when I travel. But my pencil box comes along too.
On another note, the last month has brought dismal news about cuts in publishing jobs, halts in book contracts, budget cuts in schools, and drops in book sales. Yet from what I read, books for young readers, especially non-fiction, are better than ever. It seems to me that to those of us who write, who tell stories, who spend our days playing around with words, the "economy" that matters most is the economy of language. We are concerned with how to make our stories richer. What I have enjoyed about I.N.K. blogs this past year has been the opportunity to share writing tips, to read news about new books, and to muse about non-fiction and other topics that concern me about the business of children's literature. And so "the business" we are engaged in is the business of inspiring, entertaining, and introducing young readers to the worlds we find compelling. Best Wishes for this Holiday Season and for the New Year! Happy Writing and Reading.

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